Posted by: Justin Wallace | October 26, 2009

How do you choose student leaders? Pt 1

Our team in Charlotte has gone through several different processes for choosing our student leaders. We come across what seems to be a great idea but it always ends up with holes. We use a process one year and then read a book on leadership and change everything the next year. I’m always up for new ideas, things that have worked and things that haven’t worked. So, for the next 3 weeks on Monday we’ll be sharing ideas, thoughts and maybe a process or two. We hope it helps and we give you full permission to steal, borrow and use whatever might help your ministry.4561942_std

We all know how important leadership is. Our ministries can thrive or plateau depending on our leaders.  In Charlotte we say this, “Leadership trickles from the top down.” In Remember the Titans they say, “Attitude reflects leadership.” The entire temperature of a community can change due to the leadership that is in place. If we have apathetic leaders we’ll most likely have an apathetic community. If we have passionate leadership we’ll most likely produce a passionate community.  That is why it is vital to have this conversation about how to choose our student leaders.

And let’s not be naive…we need a process. We need something on paper. Expectations. Why we do what we do. Why we choose whom we choose. We can’t just fly by the seat of our pants and expect that everything just falls into place.

I want to spend a few minutes sharing with you how we choose our leaders in Charlotte.

When we are looking at future leaders, apprentices and interns we are looking for students with these 4 characteristics.

lovegod1. Love God
This seems to be pretty self-explanatory. But we don’t want to assume anything. We want leaders that love God and desire to live the way of Jesus. We look for people that are making it extremely clear that they love God. We see this in their personal time with God, what their conversations revolve around and their commitment to the community around them. We want leaders who actively put God first in their lives. This characteristic is non-negotiable. We can’t make someone love God. Our leaders need to be people who are passionately pursuing a life-changing relationship with God.

2. Committed to this community
Commitment and faithfulness aren’t high on people’s priority list today. Some students go to 4 different campus ministries, 3 different churches and 2 different Bible studies a week. We can’t have leaders like this. We are looking for leaders that believe in the mission of this community. We are looking for leaders that are committed to this group of people. We look for leaders that have a passion for the campus they are on. This characteristic is non-negotiable. We can’t beg someone to be committed to this community. They either are or are not. If they are then they should be considered for leadership. If not, then we still love them, serve them and include them in our community but they are not ready for leadership.

3. Transparency1471052551_67e2d9d29e
We are looking for leaders who are real, authentic and transparent people. We don’t want leaders who are hiding their sin, their mess and their short falls. We’re not asking our leaders to be perfect. We just want them to own up to their junk and invite others into it so they can find accountability. This characteristic is negotiable. We understand that transparency is not easy. We believe that through one-on-one discipleship we can help a leader become more and more honest with themselves and with those around them. We understand that the natural reaction to sin is to hide it so we hope to help our leaders become un-natural in the way they deal with their mess.

4. Leadership Qualities
Most of the time this is where we start when choosing our leaders. We look for the most outgoing students. Thuddlehe one with tons of charisma. The most attractive personality in the room. But, for us, the first 3 are the foundation on which strong leadership qualities are developed. We are looking for people with strong leadership qualities. But we don’t want to get caught in the trap of choosing leaders based upon leadership qualities for the sake of leadership qualities. This characteristic is negotiable. We believe that leadership can be developed. We can help an introverted, shy, stand-offish student find their gifts and grab hold of who God created them to be. We believe that there are several types of leaders and we believe that we need all of them to advance as a community.

I hope these next 3 weeks will strike up great conversations with your team about how you choose your student leaders.



  1. Great post Justin, thanks for sharing!

    Do you require/lead any kind of formal leadership training?

  2. Where do you draw the line on leadership and commitment? It seems that a person who is at three different churches, four different campuses, and two different bible studies would have a great bead on the heartbeat of the city’s collegiate ministries. That could be invaluable to a missionary to college students.

    What would prevent you from putting such a student in charge of learning what the ministries in the area are offering, and how your ministry may fit a specific niche?

    Such a person may not be suitable for peer discipleship, or leading a bible study, but such a person may be crucial in deciding how to develop atmospheres for peer discipleship or bible studies that interface with college culture more effectively.

  3. Joe,

    We have begun doing a formal leadership training. I plan on posting all the details about it in next Monday’s post.

    But, a quick overview: we state our huge expectations right up front, and then invite the students to do a 7 week leadership coaching thing with us. We have curriculum (I hate that word…but that’s what it is) we work through that is pretty rigorous. At the end of those 7 weeks, we look at each individual and decide who has shown the commitment and discipline needed to lead.

    More on it next week.

  4. Our leaders serve in 6 month terms. You are only allowed to serve two consecutive terms. You can serve more than two terms; just not consecutively. We do the terms so that there are consistently new ideas coming to the table and driving the future of FUSION.

    At the end of the 6 month term, the present leaders select the next group of leaders. They get to help choose because they know what we look for and expect from a leader in FUSION.

    FUSION has a 3 stage mission and purpose (ME, US, THEM….dedicated to worship, small groups, and missional living).

    Your leaders must exemplify the mission and vision of the group. So the leaders know that they can only consider students they recognize are committed to our Sunday worship, in a small group, and serve in some capacity.

    The present leaders will give me a list of those they think should be considered, and then I look at their list and make choices as to which I see truly exemplifying those things.

  5. This is from a friend of mine and campus minister in the Philippines. His name is Philip Baron. “Personally i like to ask students what they want (vision) and what are they willing to pay to see it become a reality. Do they embrace who we are as a church and have our mindset/philosophy? Have they actually demonstrated what we are looking for or is it all talk? is there evidence of a growing spiritual maturity that refects who you are as a church. Finally, would other students want to follow them? And failure is part of the maturing process. Just ask Peter about that.”

  6. […] Do You Choose Student Leaders? part 2 Last week, Justin introduced the first part of How Do You Choose Student […]

  7. It doesn’t look like his discussion trackbacked, but Brian Barela discusses this post (and another take) on picking student leaders… plus, some more good comments there.

    Not saying I agree with his critique, but it’s a really good discussion. (Thanks for starting it.)

  8. hey justin yeah i thought by tracking back my comments would make it over here as benson said.

    in taking a ministry that was really struggling with alignment in Campus Crusade’s mission, vision, and values, i’ve personally seen a need for two sets of characteristics–one to get you in the door, and the other for once you’re inside.

    it seems like most ministries have the first set (the ones you are blogging about), but few have the second set (which i realized my blog was really about).

    i appreciate your post because it surfaced a realization that i had made in my head but had yet to flesh out in word.

    thanks for that!

  9. […] Justin and Brandon have written some great thoughts in the previous two weeks and was expanded by Brian […]

  10. What about faithfulness, availability, teachability, and other’s-orientedness?

    I could easily imagine a student that loves Jesus, loves the community, is willing to be open about their lives, and possesses leadership qualities yet:

    – Does not follow through on commitments
    – Is doing school work all the time and largely unavailable to meet with people and perform duties
    – Resistant to outside voices and input from leaders, choosing rather to go their own route
    – Wants to receive or “be poured into”, but has no particular desire to “pour out”

    These qualities seem SUPER important to me in a leader, and don’t obviously fall under your criteria.

  11. I’m not sure if I can respond to each point (which I would say they’re all great points and this is a great on-going conversation) but I’ll see what I can do…

    1. I would say that the person that is “apart” of your community but also “apart” of several other communities could be valuable. I would not consider them to be a leader but maybe a great person to be on a sounding board that brainstorms ideas. We have tried to put people like this into leadership and it has come back to bite us. They usually fall off 5 or 6 weeks into the semester.

    2. We don’t have a great leadership training process in place. We’re working on it. Our sophomore’s can be apprentices to an upperclassman leader. This is new for us this year and we’re hoping to become better at it next year.

    3. In response to Brian I would say that I want my leaders to remember the characteristics and that is why our characteristics are given with one word. There is a lot of depth to each one and an on-going conversation behind and underneath each. We expect everyone in our community to begin living missionally. We challenge everyone to Intentionally Invest into someone and Intentionally Invite them into their lives. We ask our leaders to lead by example and also live missional lives.

    4. Mikey…The list of leadership characteristics could be 100 long…just think about how many books have been written on leadership. We decided these 4 were the most important for us. Underneath commitment to the community comes an evaluation of their ability to follow through with commitments. This also speaks volumes to whether they are me-focused or others-focused. One quality that is huge to us is a teachable heart. I honestly believe if you are pursuing God than you are also realizing that you have a long way to go and therefore you in a position that need teaching. I also like to say that the best leaders are the broken leaders. Leaders that have experienced brokenness tend to be humble and very teachable.

    Those are just some of my thoughts…like I said there are 100’s of leadership qualities/characteristics…we’re just trying to help some young adults get started down the right road. Thanks for the conversation!

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